Can a sense of purpose improve employee engagement?

Yes. It can. If employees are aware of their purpose in the organisation, and find meaning in their work, they will be more engaged.


It was a regular chat on WhatsApp, like any other day, but my friend at the other end sounded unusually low. On asking what was bothering him, he said, “I can’t figure out ‘who am I’ and ‘why am I’”. I responded in a lighthearted manner with a question, ‘At 43, isn’t it a bit too late to seek answers to these questions?’ His reply to that had me flummoxed.

“Suddenly I am unable to figure out why I am doing what I am doing. And that too for most of my waking hours!”

He was right. Many of us just work, and work, and work some more, giving it everything we have, without really understanding the purpose.

If my friend was feeling so disengaged, probably it was because he saw no purpose at work. Yet, surprisingly, he had managed to stick on for a long time, with this question still plaguing him! But the newer generations will be different. They will explore, experiment and switch to seek answers.

Employees’ expectations have changed over time, and organisations are struggling to fulfil them. There is no dearth of gyan on how to keep employees happy, and yet, employers seem to be eternally thinking of ways to retain their top talent. So what is it that employees actually want?

The answer is ‘purpose’. While attractive pay packages, flexibility and other benefits help employees decide whether to join a company or not, it is time organisations realised that employees these days look beyond all of this. The millennials, in particular, need to feel that their presence in the organisation is meaningful. They desire to work with a purpose.

A sense of purpose is indispensable to success. Only if employees tackle their work, driven by a purpose will they be engaged and productive. Job satisfaction can only be ensured if they work with a purpose.

And how can this sense of purpose be ensured? Here are a few suggestions:

Tell them how they contribute

Help your employees understand how their work impacts the organisation and its business. They have to feel convinced that their work and efforts matter. When they understand how much of an impact they have on the overall business, they will see a sense of meaning and purpose in what they do. This will motivate them and help them engage.

Help them grow

Millennials believe in continuous learning, upskilling and upgradation. Let your employees know that they really matter, by offering them opportunities to learn, develop and grow. Invest in training, upskilling and educating each one of your employees. Encourage them to learn, create and innovate, and be ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

Connect with them

The leaders in the organisation should truly connect with the members of the workforce, and literally have their fingers on their pulse. They should invite the employees to give feedback and also take the feedback seriously. Communication should be clear and regular. Employees should feel they are part of the decision making and that their opinions are valued. Leaders should try to ensure that whatever decision has been taken, is also communicated to the workforce. This ensures accountability.

Appreciation should be given for any good work done, however small or minute. All the deserving employees must be recognised.

Encourage them to work in teams

Drive home the fact that there is strength, productivity and success in teams. Working in teams offers opportunity to engage, facilitates exchange of knowledge and skills, presents new perspectives, and helps handle cross-disciplinary issues.

Employees who miss a sense of purpose at work, will look at things differently when they get to interact with others in the team. Collaborative work influences thought processes and opens minds. Team work allows a lot of mentoring to take place. The mentor and the mentee, both stand to learn and gain from knowledge sharing.

Finding a sense of purpose helps employees engage and experience a sense of belonging. And this ‘purpose’ should be able to help the employees approach their work keeping in mind their own strengths and capabilities. It should be measurable, only then will it result in better performance in the long term. Employees who work with a purpose also feel proud of the growth of their company, derive more job satisfaction and remain loyal to the company.

Converse with them

While it is not always possible for managers and leaders to simply grant employees a purpose at work, with the help of HR, they can help the employees find a purpose. They can do so by asking them questions that will help them reflect on their own strengths and interests. Leaders should help their team members recognise their core strengths instead of focussing on their aspirations in terms of career. The moment employees realise what their primary strengths are, they will use it to achieve good results, and as a result, grow in the company. With growth, they will realise what their purpose and mission in the organisation is or should be.

May be it is time for leaders to go on a casual walk with their employees, and ask them about their experiences. What actually interests them in the company; the challenges they are facing; their achievements and their expectations. Such conversations help identify the strengths of an employee, and from there it is easy to explain to them how their talent and strength have contributed to the success and growth of the organisation. That will answer the ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions that disturb employees and prevent them from being engaged at work.

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